Move could allow more workers into UK

The government could be open to reviewing immigration policy for construction workers after the covid-19 pandemic, a minister has suggested.

Lords minister Susan Williams said the list of occupations which are allowed easier access into the UK in the government’s post-Brexit immigration system could be reviewed after “assessing how the UK labour market develops post-covid-19”.

Susan Williams

Baroness Susan Williams said the shortage occupation list for foreign construction workers could be reviewed after the pandemic

It could mean that more types of construction workers currently based in the EU, including bricklayers and masons, would be allowed to work in the UK.

Freedom of movement between the UK and the EU ended on 31 December last year, with EU and non-EU citizens now being treated equally under the new points-based immigration system.

To be able to work in the UK under the new rules, foreign nationals must be sponsored by an approved sponsor, must have a job that is deemed to be above a certain skill level and must speak English at the required level.

Exceptions are made for types of workers included on the government’s shortage occupation list (SOL), which currently includes civil engineers, mechanical engineers and architects but excludes many construction roles such as bricklayers, plasterers and quantity surveyors.

But asked yesterday by Liberal Democrat peer Nigel Jones if the government had plans to amend the SOL to include more construction roles, Williams suggested that the list could be looked at again.

Williams said: “We do not consider changes to the immigration rules or the SOLs should be made at this time, before assessing how the UK labour market develops post-covid 19 and in response to the introduction of the new points-based immigration system.”

The answer comes after a warning from Gleeds the new immigration rules could hit firms with added costs on projects and hold the industry back for years.

A survey by the firm published earlier this month revealed that nearly three quarters of respondents believed there is a shortage of labour in the UK, with 81% reporting concerns that the post-Brexit immigration rules will inevitably lead to worsening shortages and higher construction costs.

Over three quarters of respondents to the survey also said that they did not expect government apprenticeship incentives for UK workers to plug the shortage.

Gleeds UK executive chairman Douglas McCormick said he was pleased that the government “appears to be prepared to review the issue of immigration rules and their potential detrimental impact on those working in the built environment”.

He added: “They must keep an open mind as a shortage of talent will inevitably mean heightened labour rates which are likely impact costs of projects from HS2 to housing.”

The survey followed research by the Construction Products Association which found the industry’s EU workforce in the third quarter of last year had dropped by 28% in 12 months.